Judo star Daniel Powell’s mastery of the ‘sadistic’ staredown could be the unlikely key to his success at the Commonwealth Games this summer, writes Tum Balogun.
The Birmingham fighter has risen steadily through the national ranks and is in a rich vein of form ahead of his first major championships in his hometown.
He believes the sport attracts a particular type of personality, one that can be affected by so much as a stare.
He said: “Most people near the top or who are trying to get to competitions like the Commonwealth or Olympic Games will have been doing it for a long time, from their early childhood.
“I’d say personality wise you do get a certain type of person. It’s hard to describe really but you do have to be a little bit ruthless or cutthroat - a little bit sadistic.
“I remember the first look you have at your opponent where I try not to look away, I always try to keep eye contact.
“I like to think that if they can look away first then I can see they’re feeling the pressure as well.
“There’s definitely a lot that goes into it beforehand, not just the training but understanding the people that we’ll be fighting and how they fight.
“Once you’re on the mat the nerves go away, the pressure kind of goes away and you’re in the heat of the moment doing anything possible to win.”
The 24-year-old is one of over 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science, and medical support.
Powell, who has secured top five finishes in each of the last four European tournaments, regards himself as one of the leading contenders in the 73kg weight class.
Ranking his technical ability atop his list of qualities, the Powell explained how he was able to develop those skills while his physical attributes played catch up.
“I’ve always been technically good from a young age,” he said.
“I’ve had to have a lot of things over the years catch up with that, in terms of my physicality, my strength, my maturity and my mindset.
“A lot of those things have had to catch up with my technical side and I’ve seen that over the years.
“I think I've got the ability to win a fight no matter who I’m fighting.”
On his specific medal target for the games, he added: “I wouldn’t like to say, I wouldn't like to jinx anything.”
“I don’t want to say I'll definitely go and win gold but if I don't win I'll be disappointed, I’ll put it like that.
“I’m going there to win and nothing else will make me happy.”
Birmingham 2022 promises to be a thrilling experience for all Team England athletes, especially for those, like Powell, born and bred in the West Midlands itself. He will be looking to capitalise on the once and a lifetime opportunity for medal success in his home town.
He added: “The fact that it’s in Birmingham adds a little bit more pressure and excitement and I think it makes it more worthwhile.
“When you drive into Birmingham from Walsall or when you walk through [the city] you see Commonwealth Games 2022 and I remember on St Georges Day we had the cross there as well.
“So yeah, I can't walk into [the city] without seeing it somewhere - I can’t have a day off without it basically.”
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